GMG-2 Tom Stanley
I knew from childhood what I wanted, that was to be a sailor, not any sailor but; a weapons specialist what’s called a Gunner’s Mate.
I had always had a good time in the Navy; it was a job with the benefits of travel and seeing the world. Most days were boring especially while at sea. I would take care of daily tasks, and work assignments; the rest of the time was filled with practice fire drills, man overboard, general quarters other emergency drills. While this didn’t seem glamorous, I soon found out the importance of all of my training.
When not busy I spent a lot of time looking at the ocean. It seemed to stretch for ever. We could go months without seeing anyone else or any sign of land. It was peaceful, quiet. Nights were the best. I never thought about it until my first night at sea, just how dark it could be without street lights or even a moon. It was darkness like I never knew existed. There’s something exciting about being out on deck with no moon, stars, or even a little light. This was when my memories and senses took over. The deck of a naval ship is a dangerous place even in daylight, more so at night with nothing to guide your way. I would make it to the side of ship and listen as the water smashes against the hull, and smell the sea air and feel the salt water spray on to my face, while the ship plows its way through the ocean.
In the summer of my sixth year was when the chance came. I received an assignment to what seemed like every sailor either wanted or feared the most. The men at my new duty station who did not dress and at times not even look like they were military, they were a step outside of the normal military chain of command. If you saw them it would be hard to look into their eyes, there was something different about them, a since of self-confidence and pride. They were a band; a band of brothers bonded together tougher, than any brothers I have ever known. They were Special Boat Units part of naval special warfare who works closely with the U.S.Navy S.E.A.L.S units. Only seven units were commissioned at the time.
This was to be my shore duty, no going back to sea for two years. It was also a time of war and attacks on innocent unarmed civilian oil tankers. It was March 10 1987 when the United States entered in to what was called The Tanker Wars. Under the name, Operation Earnest Will, eleven Kuwaiti oil tankers were reflagged and manned by U.S. Merchant mariners. By doing so, they came under the protection of the U.S.
The U.S. had set up what was to become the first-of-their-kind Mobile sea bases, one called the Hercules and the other Wimbrown 7. They were manned by special boat units for patrol and escorts duties to stop and interdict Iran’s hostilities on tankers, along with a small Marine attachment for guarding the bases, this was in case any small craft got past the gunboats and an attachment of Army night stalker helicopters also, called sea bats. The four months I was on the barge I never did see one; they only came out at night.
When our units first started to deploy it was my job to train the temporary volunteer sailors on the weapons systems we used. The temporary volunteer sailor that came from other commands. These sailors were needed to help with shortage of man power, since the units were meant for in-and-out operations and to back up S.E.A.L. teams. We did not have the men needed for long deployments. For me this was not good enough. Not only did I want to be back at sea; but I wanted to feel needed and to accomplish something in my life. So I gave up my shore duty and asked to be deployed, which was granted. We were always on a short notice for deployment. I went into work one day and did not come home for four months. My new girlfriend, at the time, who became my wife and mother of two of my children, always knew this day could come.
Finally we were able to make contact with home, only to say we were okay. We never mention our locations. At one point, my mom had contacted the Red Cross in hopes of finding out where I was and if I was okay. The department of the Navy responded along the lines of; “You should be proud, your son is doing fine and serving his country well. Due to national security reason we cannot give out any information on his location.”
Our main operation was to protect merchant shipping from attacks by Iranian gunboats. We were day and night on our 65 foot Mark III gunboats looking for Iranian gunboats, floating mines, and also as a shield for what had become our home.
There’s nothing like being on a 65 foot aluminum hulled boat, in mine infested water, when it’s so dark out you can’t even see with night vision equipment. We always figured if we found a mine at night we would not be around in the morning to know about it.
For fun we would do what was called a high speed cast. We would get the boats going as fast as possible and run from the front and jump off the back. Water is not always as soft as a person might think. Hitting at that speed was like falling on an icy side walk or throwing yourself against a brick wall.
Here we were doing patrols and escorting tankers for a month or more with what had became relative routine boredom; long nights and days on patrol along with days full of work. Sleep was something you wished for but received very little of.
I wanted some excitement like the detachment before us had experienced for example, when two army night stalker helicopters came under attack and sank three Iranian gunboats; in an area that was supposed to be our gunboat patrol area. When our boats arrived, they picked up the survivors of the attack. That unit also took part in finding the Iranian mine laying ship Iran Agr, in the act of deploying mines.
Then in late January 1988 we were supposed to meet up with a convoy of tankers and escort them south, past the mind field and area of patrolling boghammers and other Iranian gunboats. It was late at night when we came to our rendezvous point around a small island. The same island, three months earlier, Army sea bats had sunk the three Iranian gunboats. We were told to check out two possible contacts around the island. As we came closer our radar picks up the contacts.
As we came around the island we started shooting off .60 MM mortar illumination shells which would make night into day depending on the round used would light up an area between 984-1,640 feet in diameters. It was nothing short of artificial sun light. Now, after all those boring patrols, and what I felt were a waste of time, this was it; the point when I knew it was all on the line. Seems strange looking back, but I can still feel the rush and the excitement of what could come. Never did I stop and think of what to do, all my training took over my body, like some machine from with inside of me. I never worried about where my brothers were. I knew they were at their post, as I was.
At first, the men on the other boat kept holding up a fish. Then they would act like they were picking up another one, pretending they were fishing, but all we were seeing was just the one fish. As I manned the forward .50 caliber machine gun mount, I had the best view and knew if something happened; my brother’s lives and the outcome of this night could depend on my actions. My eyes were fixed on the two men who kept bending over. I was just waiting for them to come back up one time with a rifle or rocket propelled grenade launcher.
The Chief of the boat asked “Stanley see any weapons?”
I would reply back “No Chief nothing”
We kept trying to move in closer while our sister boat stayed back and watched over the other boat and also provided back up for us. Every time we would move closer the other boats would move. Finally, with the Army sea bats arriving and two more of our gun boats on the way to help, the boats took. We kept our pace with them for what seemed like hours, until they reached the safe waters of the Iranian Exclusion Zone.
By the time we made it back to our rendezvous area, the sun was just coming up over the horizon and we could see the outline of the tankers with the sun shining off of them. No one spoke a word nothing had to be said for we had done our jobs.
Even though many other incidents happened before my tour was over, that night I realized everything was worth it. For those men on the tankers had a peaceful night and a safe trip, never knowing what went on or what was laying in wait for them had we not been there to do our jobs. For me, I knew that I was no longer here to play games or for excitement, this was very real. Every patrol, every boring night and long day’s now meant something. Some people say you’re brought into this world for one reason. I sometimes still wonder if that was mine. I know the feelings I felt that morning and they haven’t been felt by me since.
In writing this, it is my intent, to honor those that came before me and those who serve with honor now and in the future. For they, are the unspoken. Best kept secret of the U.S.Navy.